3.2Doctoral research at Flemish universities

By Noëmi Debacker (UGent)

This chapter provides an overview of doctoral researchers at Flemish universities, their funding, success rates and the number of awarded PhDs in Flanders.

Most results presented in this chapter originate from the database Human Resources in Research Flanders (HRRF) that monitors the research population in Flanders since 1990-1991. The results with respect to the obtained PhDs and the international position of Flanders however originate from the Flemish education statistics (https://onderwijs.vlaanderen.be/nl/statistisch-jaarboek), Eurostat and ECOOM UGent.

The number of doctoral researchers increased steadily over time. In 2014-2015 nearly 2650 researchers started a PhD. The share of women has increased steadily, but their share remains below 50% (except for 2006-2007 and 2016-2017 where their share reached 50%). We also observed an increase in the share of foreigners among the new doctoral researchers, mainly due to Asian and EU researchers. Today two thirds of the new doctoral researchers are bursary or scholarship recipients.

To calculate the PhD success rate we consider to what extent the PhD was completed within eight years after starting the PhD research. The PhD success rates have increased from 46.5% among researchers starting in 1990-1991 up to 70.3% among researchers who have started in 2008-2009. Success rates are higher in natural, applied and medical sciences compared to human and social sciences. Today success rates among doctoral researchers from European countries and North-America are comparable to those of Belgian researchers, but success rates among doctoral researchers from Central and South America, Africa and Asia are significantly higher.

The median duration to achieve a PhD is 4.7 years; humanities show the highest duration (5.1 years) and natural sciences the shortest (4.5 years).

These changes have led to a threefold increase in the number of obtained PhDs during the past 25 years. In 2017-2018, 2155 PhDs were awarded. Despite this increase the Flemish innovation potential is still running behind when compared to Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark, but the differences are getting smaller.